1) Whit Merrifield
Merrifield is hitting an outstanding .333/.350/.483 in his first 28 games with the KC Royals. If he could maintain such production playing mostly at second base, he’d become one of the most valuable second sackers in the game.
However, there’s little chance he will keep up the pace.
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The first number that jumps out at me from his stats is the .400 BABIP (Batting Average Balls In Play). That’s unsustainable. A typical major-league hitter sits around .300, but a speedy player like Merrifield can expect to sustain a slightly higher BABIP due to his ability to beat out infield hits.
Of course, top hitters sustain a BABIP well above average. For example, Ichiro Suzuki has a career .340 BABIP. The Kansas City Royals’ own Lorenzo Cain enjoys a career .346 BABIP. So where can we expect Merrifield to sit on this scale? Is he a guy that can sustain a high BABIP?
The next number to notice about Merrifield’s early performance is his exceptionally high 36.1% hard hit ball percentage. Merrifield also has a 49.5% medium hit rate with a mere 14.4% soft hit rate. This data suggests that Merrfield’s high BABIP for the KC Royals isn’t exactly luck. He’s hitting the ball hard.
Merrifield’s Exceptional 36.1% hard hit ball percentage suggests his high BABIP isn’t all luck
Of course, a player on a hot streak could also be seeing the ball unusually well over the short term—leading him to hit the ball with more authority than you can expect on a regular basis. But, it does make me feel better that Merrfield’s high BABIP is about him striking the ball well rather than getting fortunate with ball placement.
Merrifield told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that he’s hitting the ball harder due to some adjustments to his game that he began last October. First, Merrifield wanted to get stronger and embarked on an elaborate strength training program. Second, Merrifield started to release his top hand from the bat during his follow through.
At this point, it’s hard to argue with the results. Merrifield is hitting the ball with more authority against major-league competition than he’s ever shown against weaker competition in the minors.
That change has to give Kansas City Royals fans hope that a guy that every team in baseball could have claimed in the Rule 5 draft last winter can provide top-shelf performance over a full-season.
In the end, I think Merrifield’s triple slash is likely to come down; but his range, versatility, and speed on the basepaths are all valuable skills. I believe Merrifield will prove to be an above-average middle infielder for the KC Royals. With his ability to play every position except catcher, that will make him a valuable player for years to come.
Next: Brett Eibner